LEPs and SMEs can now apply for EU development funding

Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and individual local firms will be able to apply for a share of the £2.6bn European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in a “major shift to more localised spending”.

The funding supports research, innovation and business development in small to medium-sized enterprises while striving to create jobs across local economies.

It will also focus on the creation of a low carbon economy.

Local growth and Northern Powerhouse minister, James Wharton MP, said: “This funding will give the places a chance to contribute more to the national economy and unlock local potential.

“We want local partners to come forward with how they want to use this money to drive forward their economy. As part of our long-term economic plan this money will provide a big boost to businesses and help create numerous jobs locally that will also benefit people living in towns and villages nearby.”

There are three separate funds under a single ‘EU Structural and Investment Funds Growth’ programme for the current funding period. A total of £5bn is being invested in the 2014-20 round of the ERDF and the European Social Fund (ESF) to finance local projects, with £2.6 available within the ERDF alone.

The government says the 39 LEP areas “know best what is needed to boost growth locally”, with all decisions being taken within this framework.

The ERDF was originally established as a way to support regional economic development with grants typically awarded to governmental and regional agencies, council and other public sector bodies.

However in a speech in March, the then communities secretary Eric Pickles MP said the localised shift was “on the basis of progress my department has made in agreeing the major points of principle with the European Commission” about the ERDF programme.

He added: “We have abolished unelected regional quangos that were previously in charge of the schemes and given an important role to LEPs and other local partners to shape and influence how the money is spent.

“We also believe local partners should have a direct role in decision-making outside a formally delegated arrangement, to further increase local engagement. The European Commission ruled this out however, as not being compliant with European Union regulations.

“We have nevertheless ensures a strong local role for partners, whose advice will be pivotal in determining the priorities of project calls and the funding decisions that are taken – ensuring that projects are focused on the interests of local communities.”

This round of the programme is the most locally-led fund but a variety of requirements and criteria must be met before firms can apply for the fund. Eligibility to apply can be found in the government website.

(Top image c. Leo Reynolds)


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